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Prosecutors criticized in pop-up porn case
Published: 2008-07-21

Thirteen months after a judge threw out a jury's verdict against former substitute teacher Julie Amero, supporters of the accused woman have turned up the heat on Connecticut prosecutors to drop all charges.

More than three years ago, investigators charged Amero with multiple counts of risk of injury to a minor after her classroom computer began displaying pornographic pop-up advertisements in full view of her students. When students' parents complained, the police seized the computer and -- based on rudimentary forensics work done by the local part-time cybercrime detective -- accused Amero of causing the pop-ups by browsing to pornographic Web sites.

The case came to the attention of security researchers in January 2007, after the jury returned a guilty verdict on four counts of risk of injury to a minor. A group of researchers obtained a copy of the hard drive and used forensics evidence to refute the statements of prosecutors and the expert witness in the case. Investigators belatedly sent the hard drive to the state's cybercrime lab which confirmed that the pop-up ads were caused by malicious code on the system, not by Amero's actions.

While the judge vacated the ruling, and gave the prosecutors the option of retrying the case, the state's attorneys have put the case on the back burning, leaving Amero in limbo, according to columnist Rick Green of the Hartford Courant.

The prosecutors responsible for handling the case "don't want to talk about their plans, other than to confirm that Amero is still on the active trial list," Green wrote. "Her lawyer, Willie Dow, and supporters across the country don't want to speak, either, fearing this would antagonize prosecutors."

Mistakes made by prosecutors can be costly, psychologically as well as financially, to defendants. In 2002, a 29-year-old network administrator was convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for sending 5,600 e-mail messages to customers of his former employer warning about a security hole. The prosecutors in the case argued, and the judge agreed, that the accused was guilty of unauthorized access and abused the company's e-mail servers to send the messages. The prosecutors have since admitted their mistake and the case was overturned on appeal, but not before the defendant served 16 months in prison.

More recently, another defendant lost his friends and job after prosecutors accused him of downloading child pornography. Forensics investigators hired by the defense found that his former company had given the man a laptop with non-functioning security software that had likely already been infected.

An online petition to "Free Julie Amero" has gathered more than 600 signatures in less than two weeks.

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Posted by: Robert Lemos
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